Musicians give new life to halls of fame

20th January 2006 at 00:00
The decision to open the refurbished City Halls complex in Glasgow with a series of education-based events rather than a star-studded gala is a token of the high priority assigned to educational activities at this prestigious new venue.

The pound;15million refurbished complex contains two major performance venues, the City Halls and the Old Fruitmarket. It is now home to the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and music department, and houses Glasgow Cultural Enterprises' music education officers and the Scottish Music Information Centre (see last week's TES Scotland).

The official unveiling of the City Halls, which boasted the finest acoustic properties of any Scottish venue, took place last Thursday with a concert featuring the world premiere of Anna Meredith's Casting. The 27-year-old Edinburgh-born composer is the current resident composer with the BBC SSO, and this was her first work in that capacity. Meredith and musicians from the orchestra have been working towards their performance with around 250 children from nursery, primary and secondary schools in the Bridgeton and Dennistoun areas of Glasgow.

The orchestra on stage was huge, augmented by senior pupils and students from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.

Pupils from the lower schools were ranged down either side of the hall and on the balcony, playing percussion instruments that included dustbin lids, bits of old cars and partly filled water bottles.

Meredith's intricate music began quietly, then built to a cleverly sustained crescendo which finally burst into a vivid evocation of the industrial process in full flow. The finale evoked the decay of that industry in poignant fashion. The piece was performed twice in the concert, alongside Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man and Elgar Howarth's brass arrangement of The Great Gate of Kiev from Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.

Conductor Baldur Bronnimann marshalled the extensive forces, aided by strategically placed assistants relaying cues to the teachers and musicians with their respective groups.

The education department then threw open its doors on Saturday. Their IT suite was given over to Tonetag workshops where children creating their own ring tones using the BBC's Making Tracks software.

Elsewhere in the building, three musicians from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra took a large group of children (and parents) on a Bear Hunt, adapted by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury.

Various come-and-try instrumental workshops and open rehearsals featuring the Glasgow Schools' Intermediate String Orchestra and Concert Band took place throughout the day.

Most intriguing, though, was a first opportunity to see the new OptiMusic installation in action. OptiMusic works by triggering sounds through breaking a beam of light.

Passing a hand, foot or any other part of the body through the beam triggers a sound which can be as simple as a rude noise or an animal effect, or complex enough to allow pupils to compose their own music.

The technology has been used in places like the Glasgow Science Centre as a visitor attraction, but Jacqui Sharples, education manager of Glasgow Cultural Enterprises, believes this is the first time it has been put to serious use in music education.

The activities that education officer Katie Hepburn employed with the children were mainly for fun, but even so it was possible to glimpse the more complex uses the system will offer.

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